Why does Hollywood seem to despise Roman Catholicism?
Granted, the industry’s antipathy towards religion as a whole, and Christianity in particular, is pretty much a given. But it appears that within this circle, no religion to them is more anathema than Roman Catholicism.
The latest swipe at the world’s largest Christian population, all 1.1 billion of us (plus another 240 million Eastern Orthodox) comes from, surprise surprise, uber-leftist Susan Sarandon. It is interesting that she should accuse Pope Benedict XVI of being a “Nazi” at this time because I was trying to figure a way to discuss all the good that Roman Catholics have done through incredible acts of bravery and self-sacrifice over the years.
To call the Pope a Nazi because, like all German youths, he was conscripted into the Hitler Youth during the Fuehrer’s reign of absolute power may provide Ms. Sarandon with a shot of self-righteous hauteur she so desperately craves. It also shows a lack of historical understanding that seems to be a requirement if one wishes to join the coterie of far-left fantasy-performer/activists.
There is no denying the Church was engaged in a monstrous scandal and one over which it should be ashamed and contrite. For the past 50 years the figure of clergy accused of sexual abuse of parishioners is anywhere 1.5 percent to 4 percent of the total members. Today, there are more than 400,000 priests which would indicate that, although those guilty members committed vile, disgusting and inexcusable crimes — and the Church’s attempt at masking the problem was just as criminal in my mind — an overwhelming number of Catholic clergy are truly pious keepers of the faith.
Yet it is the crimes alone that the left sees when they bother to even examine Catholicism at all. Oddly enough, one positive portrayal of a truly noble Catholic in film comes from an unlikely source: accused child molester Roman Polanski. The director’s 2002 film ‘The Pianist’ spotlighted the true-life German soldier whose kindness kept the Jewish main character, Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody), alive and in hiding until the Russians arrived in Warsaw. The German officer’s name was Hauptmann Wilhelm Hosenfeld (played with wonderful nuance by German actor Thomas Kretschmann), and he represents to me what Catholicism is all about.
Like the Pope himself, Hosenfeld started off with a Nazi affiliation. While the former Joseph Ratinzinger’s membership was compulsory, Hosenfeld willingly joined the Nazi party as did many Germans in the early 1930s looking for hope and change. A decorated veteran of World War I, he was drafted into the Wehrmacht at age 44 and, rising from the rank of Feldwebel to Hauptmann, would eventually be stationed in occupied Warsaw.
But Hosenfeld soon became disenchanted by, and then viscerally ashamed of, what was being done to the Poles, especially the Polish-Jews, under his nation’s banner. All through his military service he kept a diary of his feelings, thoughts which survived because he would send them home for safe-keeping. Witnessing the horrors of the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto and the implementation of the “Final Solution” unfolding before his eyes, he would write such impassioned entries as: “These brutes. With horrible mass murder of the Jews we have lost this war. We have brought an eternal curse on ourselves and will be forever covered with shame. We have no right for compassion or mercy; we all have a share in the guilt. I am ashamed to walk in the city.”
Hosenfeld’s revulsion was rooted in his deep-seeded Catholicism — a religious conviction that prompted him to action, not just words. He befriended numerous Poles and even made an effort to learn their language. He also attended Mass, received Holy Communion, and went to confession in Polish churches, even though this was forbidden. His actions on behalf of Poles began as early as autumn 1939 when he allowed, against regulations, Polish POWs access to their families.
He has been directly credited with saving the lives of numerous refugees, Jews and non-Jews alike. Though he escaped the Nazi wrath, Hosenfeld was taken POW by the Russians. Despite entreaties by both Polish Christians and Jews for his release, the Soviets refused, instead (falsely) believing him to be a war criminal through his unit affiliation and convicting him in 1950 to 25 years imprisonment. He eventually died in 1952, possibly from injuries suffered during one of his many rounds of torture at the hands of his captors.
Szpilman applied to Yad Vashem in 1998 to have Hosenfeld recognized. Before the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous could award the title, it had to be verified that Hosenfeld had not been involved in war crimes. Yad Vashem reviewed his letters and diaries and also received confirmation from the Polish Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes that his conduct had been untarnished. In 2009, Hosenfeld was officially recognized by the organization as a Righteous Among the Nations (a posthumous honor shared with the likes of Oskar Schindler).
Though not a true martyr in that he did not die for his actions, Hosenfeld is an exemplar of what is good and decent and honorable in the Catholic faith. As another man he saved, Leon Warm, wrote in a 1950 letter to Szpilman entreating him for help in securing their mutual savior’s release, “the villains and perpetrators are free, while a man deserving recognition is suffering.” That is the essence of martyrdom, the kind of which continues to this day.
In Baghdad on a Sunday afternoon, October 31, 2010, a young woman named Raghada al-Wafi ran into her cathedral – Our Lady of Salvation – with wonderful news to share with the priest who had married her: she was going to have a baby. The priest happily bestowed a blessing. It ended up being the last act of their lives. Moments later, the priest, Raghada and her unborn child were slaughtered. They were among the Catholic faithful killed by terrorist gunmen who stormed into the church and accused the Christians of being infidels. Then they began randomly firing on them. Dozens of worshippers sought sanctuary in the church sacristy.
But many more weren’t so lucky.
When the four-hour siege was over, more than 50 Iraqi Catholics had been killed, including two priests. It was one of the deadliest attacks on Christians in years. But certainly not the last. Since then, the 8 million Coptic Christians in Egypt have been routinely persecuted, their clergy murdered, the faithful beaten, churches burned. But apparently Ms. Sarandon feels that, despite the overwhelming good that the Church does throughout the world, often suffering along the way, all she can say about its spiritual head is that he is a “Nazi.” I guess technically then so was Wilm Hosenfeld. But what fun is learning history, when ignorant histrionics will suffice?
Now, devout Catholics like Hosenfeld, al-Wafi , the Coptic Catholics suffering alongside their more numerous Orthodox brothers and sisters and the many others throughout the world may not show as much moral conviction and courage as an actress sniping at the Pope from the plush confines of a Sag Harbor film festival.
Still, I think it’s time for the Hollywood crowd to turn its critical eye towards those who create the martyrs rather than those who bravely offer themselves upon the altar of a religion whose founding principles remain as beautifully powerful and true today as when Christ was born in obscurity two millennia ago: peace on earth and good will towards mankind.